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UPI Archives
Friday, May 4, 1979

Unhappy Britons elect 'Iron Lady'

Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher riases her arms in a victorious gesture in front of the British flag after her closing speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Brighton, England 10/12/1984 following the Irish Republican Army bomb blast earlier at the Grand Hotel, Brighton where Mrs Thatcher was staying. (UPI Photo/Roy Letkey)

LONDON, May 4, 1979 (UPI) - Margaret Thatcher was elected Europe's first woman prime minister today and defeated Prime Minister James Callaghan sought an audience with Queen Elizabeth II to present his resignation.

A jubilant Mrs. Thatcher, the Conservative Party leader and "Iron Lady" of British politics, swept to a solid win in yesterday's election, heading toward an absolute majority in the House of Commons - far larger than expected.

"We've done half our job, which is getting elected," she told champagne-drinking party workers. "Now we've got to do the other half, which is getting re-elected in five years' time."

The unprecedented election result meant women held Britain's two top jobs - that of monarch and the head of government.

Callaghan began the process that would replace Britain's entire government in a matter of hours.

He asked for an audience of the queen to tender his resignation and "advise" her to summon Mrs. Thatcher to form a new government.

Mrs. Thatcher may see the queen "by tea time," as one London newspaper put it, which will make the tough, slick mother of two Britain's new prime minister - and ready to move instantly into No. 10 Downing Street.

Mrs. Thatcher ran far behind Callaghan in personal preference polls. But in Britain voters pick only a member of Parliament, not a presidential-style national leader, and "Maggie" Thatcher and her party rode the crest of voter dissatisfaction with the socialist economic policies of the Labor Party to oust Callaghan for a five-year term.

The vote count was incomplete, but with 559 of Parliament's 635 seats decided, the Conservatives had 291, Labor had 254, the Liberal Party 9 and others 5.

Computer projections predicted Mrs. Thatcher would end with an overall House of Commons majority of up to 40 seats. Results already declared made it virtually impossible for her party to lose.

Mrs. Thatcher, a 53-year-old lawyer who campaigned on a platform of private enterprise and tax cuts, polled strongly throughout the country in an extraordinarily high voter turnout.

The Scottish National Party, advocating independence for Scotland was all but wiped out, losing nine of its 11 seats. Wales switched from Labor to Conservative, although the Welsh Nationalist Party held on to two seats.

The extreme right-wing National Front, once considered a serious political force, polled less than 1% of the vote, about the same number as the newly formed Ecology Party.

Mrs. Thatcher was expected to steer the country away from the socialist policies of Callaghan - who had survived more than three years at the head of a minority government - and move it more toward the right.

Polls before the elections showed the key issues were inflation, unemployment, high taxes and the runaway powers of labor unions.

Copyright 2007 by United Press International.